With so many mHealth apps and potentially misleading app descriptions out there, it’s helpful to have structured, systematic protocols to help identify and critique apps for any given health topic. A group from La Trobe University recently published their protocol for such a systematic review on apps targeted at speech sound disorders (SSD) in children. In speech therapy, medical apps can be useful in providing the patient more opportunities to practice outside the clinic while actively receiving feedback on the accuracy of their performance, increasing involvement of the patient’s family members, and providing meaningful data over time for the speech-language pathologist to monitor the patient’s progress. This extra support outside the clinic may expedite and improve treatment.
The protocol is designed for medical apps from the Google Play store for androids and the Apple iTunes store for iOS. The search terms will include speech, phonology, phonological, articulation/artic, talk, pronunciation, speak, say, chat, speech therapy, speech pathology. The search and identification process follows the PRISMA guidelines closely. Included apps will be downloaded for further analysis on a Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 WiFi 16GB and an android phone (to be specified) running android Version 5.0, and an iPad 3 and iPhone 5S running iOS Version 9.3.4. The Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS) will be used to assess the quality of the downloaded apps. The parameters of interest include engagement (including speech input and auditory discrimination tasks), functionality (including the ability to teach other languages than English, alternative and augmentative communication, receptive or expressive language skills), aesthetics, information quality, subjective quality, and perceived impact.
Besides the potential functionality and economical benefits of good SSD apps, users may actually prefer sessions on apps because of their convenience and attractiveness. A recent article from the Miami Herald describes positive feedback and experiences from families using the telespeech or telepractice, which is a computer-based program that is increasingly being supported by clinics. This allows the patient to access practice sessions in the convenience of their home and the layout of the computer platform can be more exciting and engaging, especially for the younger patients. Quality SSD apps on mobile devices will share similar, if not more benefits as telespeech, therefore it is important to develop good protocols to help systematically identify and recommend the best SSD apps to date.